amazon investigation whistleblower firing

With so many businesses either closing down or taking a serious hit due to the current pandemic crisis, we are left asking the inevitable questions, “Are there any businesses out there who are actually thriving in all of this? If there are, how are they doing it?”

Few businesses have managed to become examples of this, but if you’re looking for answers, you need look no further than the neighborhood top dog, Amazon.

The multibillion dollar company has been profiting greatly since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, continuing to take orders from consumers stuck in their residences, and they’re even looking to hire an extra 175,000 workers to support the current demand.

Cleary the company is seeing profit, but at what cost?

Nationwide protests have swarmed the warehouses of the internet giant, being haroled as possibly the largest protests yet against Amazon’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Warehouse workers have been demanding that Amazon shut down facilities where employees have tested positive for COVID-19. They have also been stating that they are not being given masks that the company had promised them, and for Amazon to ease their speed quotas so that they can take more handwashing and other breaks.

“I touch over 2,000 different items every day I work there. I have to grab products out of the shelf and put them in the bins. …And I’m not wearing any protection,” states Terrell Worm, one of the Staten Island warehouse employees. “Amazon says we’re all a family here. If they really saw us as a family, they’d care about keeping us safe and keeping us home.”

Another such protester was Christian Smalls who was a warehouse worker for Amazon that assisted in staging a protest, demanding the closing of one of its New York facilities after discovering several confirmed cases of employees infected by the coronavirus. Smalls was fired following the protest, and which has New York officials looking closely at Amazon with suspicion of violating whistleblower policies.

Officials write that their preliminary findings “raise serious concern that Amazon may have discharged [Smalls] in order to silence his complaints and send a threatening message to other employees that they should also keep quiet about any health and safety concerns.”

After his firing, VICE reported findings of Amazon memo details that were leaked, which narrated an agreed upon smear campaign on Smalls and the union/organizing movement, calling him “not smart or articulate”, and with plans to make him the face of the movement.

Still Amazon holds fast to their position that Smalls was fired because he violated a 14-day quarantine, after he came into contact with another employee who tested positive for the coronavirus. They argue that while they respect their workers’ right to protest, “these rights to not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues.”

Indeed, Smalls is not the only case being investigated. Other activists on the Amazon team were also fired for criticizing the company’s warehouse working conditions. Among other affairs, the workers have also raised concerns about receiving pay after being sent home, and also about Amazon removing their unlimited paid sick leave policy.

Time will tell whether the nationwide complaints are unfounded or prove the old adage to ring true that “you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs”. As it stands, Amazon seems primed to crack as many eggs as it needs to, to continue seeing results.

John Rosenbaum is an Orange County worker’s compensation attorney.

CategoryBusiness Law
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